TT22 Managing Cash in Emergencies

Guide to Financial Management

Top Tips 22

Managing Cash in Emergencies

The safe handling of cash is important for the management of project resources and security of project staff, especially in an emergency response.  Every NGO should have its own policies and procedure on cash management - here are some general points and practical suggestions to consider.

Be aware of the risk to cash and yourself at all times!

General advice

  • Keep cash balances to a minimum. Aim for no more than two weeks supply of cash on office premises where an adequate banking system exists.
  • Keep cash in a locked metal cash box and stored in a secure, discretely located safe.
  • Only move cash when absolutely necessary. When doing so, avoid sending people alone and maintain confidentiality about movements.
  • Avoid fixed routines for cash withdrawals from the bank.
  • Consider obtaining insurance for cash held on the premises and cash in transit. The need for this has to be balanced with the cost of insurance.
  • Use cheque payments for bills whenever possible and as soon as possible.
  • For major purchases, is there another way? eg direct payments from head office into supplier bank accounts or ask suppliers to collect cash from your offices. For staff payroll, consider direct transfers into bank accounts. 
  • Carry out cash counts as a ‘spot check’, varying the time and day in the week.
  • Count and sign for cash each time it is handed from one person to another.
  • Reconcile cash balances at least once a week.

Before you arrive in the field

  • Split money between the team travelling out to the emergency. 
  • Check restrictions on bringing money into the country. The usual restrictions may change in an emergency situation. Arrange a letter of authority from Head Office to confirm your role and the amount of cash you are carrying.
  • Have a mix of denominations to make small (or large) payments immediately.
  • Use money belts 24 hours a day! 
  • Consider where cash will be held on arrival – will you need to take a safe?
  • Check the insurance for cash in transit. What are the limits?
  • Collect the cash at the latest possible minute.

Once you arrive in the field

  • Declare money to customs authorities, if required. 
  • Don’t advertise how much money you are carrying. Keep this information within the team.
  • Put the cash in a safe place or a bank as soon as possible. Where there are no banks, look for creative, acceptable safe alternatives, eg a pharmacy safe.
  • Assign one person to oversee and access safe to minimise risk.
  • Disguise the safe as much as possible in the tent/office. 
  • Take care in a ‘tent office’: close the door or have someone at the door to stop people wandering in when you access the safe. 
  • Carry out your cash reconciliation in private or during a quiet period, to avoid being distracted or diverted.
  • Keep notes neatly and clearly bundled in the safe to avoid confusion.
  • Keep your working advance separate from your personal money.
  • Establish acceptable means of transport for the cash carrier. For example, charter or commercial flight? Public or private road? NGO car or private car? 

When leaving the field

  • Do a formal handover of remaining cash. Do a cash count together and ask the person taking over to sign a handover document confirming they have taken receipt of the cash. 
  • Avoid carrying significant cash home. Spend it on regular project expenses, eg salaries, or an arrangement with another NGO who will reimburse Head Office.
  • Observe the same cash security measures when you travel home with cash as you did when you travelled to the field.


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